The Parti Québécois's proposed Charter of Values reveals several ironies, which suggest that the PQ is not so much pursuing sovereignty as exploiting identity politics to energize its electoral base and win a majority.
Pauline Marois, the first female Premier of the last Canadian province to afford women the right to vote, is offering a series of measures that risks marginalizing immigrant women – while invoking the supremacy of gender equality.
Another paradox is that this is a society that for centuries has fought an existential and perfectly legitimate battle against cultural and linguistic assimilation – with a government turning to assimilationist policies toward its own cultural and religious minorities.
The planned legislation – the wording of which has not yet been made public – will allow the boards of some provincially governed institutions to opt out of the ban on "ostentatious" religious symbols for public-sector workers.
The four main candidates in Montreal's mayoral race have all said they will hold a council vote invoking the exemption. Many of the city's hospitals and postsecondary institutions are likely to follow suit.
So the charter may apply primarily to rural and semi-urban areas of Quebec, to which there is little or no immigration. Support for the bill is strongest in those regions, and they offer the prospect of the largest electoral gains.
It is fair to infer that the PQ wants to cook up a majority government, using the familiar sauce of identity politics. Past electoral results, such as the success of the Action démocratique du Québec in 2007 at the height of the manufactured crisis over "reasonable accommodation," indicate that identity is an effective wedge issue.
Polls indicate it could well work again, but then what? How does angering Jews, Sikhs and Muslims – census figures show Arabs as the fastest-growing segment of Quebec's society – bolster the chances of achieving sovereignty, which is still the PQ's raison d'être?
The Marois government may be signalling it has given up hope of persuading voters outside its francophone nationalist base to adhere to the national project.
It's never wise to proclaim the death of the sovereignty movement. But the proposed Charter of Values suggests that its leaders have run out of ideas on how to win over the so-called children of Bill 101 – francophones who are not of French ancestry. That is good news for Canada.